Friday, December 28, 2018


"That cauldron of lust and muck."  I ran across this phrase the other day.  I'm not sure whether it was about sex or politics or both.  As I sort my old papers, I keep an eye out for a short article I saved describing metaphors for sex from different sources.  One version was about sex being a monster something like a squid that lives under beds, binds innocent girls and injects them with something that makes them writhe and moan.  One was a mother's idea of sex, the bride reclining on an altar attended by singing angels carrying candelabras and cherubs (grandchildren) full of delight.  Then there was "ka-ching!"  The more emotional the event, the more vivid and numerous the metaphors.  People feel very metaphorical about bodies.

This work I'm doing is meant to provide material for the design of a wedding ritual or weekly worship or funeral liturgy -- whatever you are faced with creating.  If one's office in society is simply to pursue a prescribed script, then that's fine but might need a little interpretation for some.  Working out a sequence of happenings as an individual or as a group can easily turn in a child's birthday party of familiar leggos, quickly assembled and unremarkable.  Or it can be so baffling and irrelevant that everyone present ends up repelled.  It can make assumptions about what to do not just ineffective, but offensive.  Like an initiation orgy at a fraternity.

Two sources of order are helpful.  The first is Victor Turner's sequence of LIMINAL time and space: entry, transformation, exit.  Briefly, his idea was that even in a secular setting there is some sign of the "doorway" (the limen is the threshold of a door).  The house lights go down, the orchestra plays the prelude, and finally the curtain sweeps open to the main event.  We are alerted that the following time will be special and carry meaning.  Turner claimed that during this "liminal" time, people will be equals and it will be possible to open one's mind to something new, possibly transformative.  When the time ends, people will need some sort of transition back to the real world -- maybe just rolling the credits of a movie, maybe bows from the cast and the presenting of bouquets.

The other structuring force, besides the one demonstrated above, is that any presentation, including a sermon, is an INTERACTION between the producer and the acceptor.  What the presenter offers, whether a concerto, a play, or a dance, must be to the audience something they can accept and kindle into meaning for themselves.  Consider how you react to these YouTubes.  This group is called "The Bad Boys" and they certainly look a little delinquent.  Their movements are typical of "I don't care," but because they do them in synchrony with music, they become dance.  We don't know what to expect, but most of us will be entranced and watching.  More than that, in our muscles as we watch is the faint echo of making those moves and even feeling the emotion of defiant carelessness that they come from.  This vid is younger boys and is labeled hip-hop.  It has a cheering audience.  It is not so potentially threatening -- more like cute.

But some audiences, perhaps used to ballet, will not like this stuff.  (I suspect most ballet dancers will be intrigued and try out the moves.)  Part of the effect of something once unimaginable is specifically that it is boys instead of girls, in street clothes, using moves from ordinary living instead of five numbered French court-dictated foot positions.

Leonard Nimoy, being an alien, was not afraid to be even more daring by photographing women who were fat, VERY fat, and totally naked -- dancing.  He had the support of his wife who had a different point of view than his and luckily he listened.  Some people will be freaked out and some will be kindled into thought about the way we understand bodies.. There were two two-party conversations: the one with the models, who were from a burlesque group called "The Fat Bottom Revue", and the one with the audience for the photos -- and then a third, which was between Nimoy and his audience when he spoke.  Some audiences would rise and leave.  Others would find their lives changed. Which of us is seen as an alien?

Context is of primary importance when dealing with metaphors.  When I first moved here, a local boy was fighting to stay alive as long as possible though suffering from muscular dystrophy.  He could not move; he could not get fat.  He died.  The way I was taught to "do" a memorial or funeral was to gather the family, friends, and even pets together for a few hours of "testifying," bringing up memories.  

The role of the celebrant is to mull this material until a metaphor emerges that epitomizes the person. "Testifying."  Then the celebrant takes the gathering through an introduction, a justification and summing up, finally a return to the world.  In this case the boy's sister had composed a prelude by editing together the boy's favourite songs.  

The town had kept an eye out in case of need for many years.  They would have liked to hear about earlier days when the boy went along the dusty streets in his electric wheelchair, his dog trotting alongside.  But the minister just used denominational boiler plate.  She never even visited the home. The failure was so much less than the boy deserved.  Somehow this woman, new to ministry, was not properly prepared for her work.  Her seminary evidently thought only of the dogma. Her denomination, not many years ago. added flames to their stark cross.  Metaphorical, but not fulfilled.

These two ordering strategies do not depend on history or dogmatic liturgy. They are from human experience, whole body cognizance from flesh but not a cauldron of lust and muck.

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